I was once told by a rather drunk and venal potential-romantic-interest that I was "Manichean" - that I saw things in terrible, stark binary. Incorrect in context, as it turned out (though he prided himself on uniting the body and soul in a profoundly Whitman-American way I do admire. If I moved back to America I'd ride horses and spend nights under the stars.). But right in theory. I do divide things into cliches (even if I like to soften the blow by calling them "archetypes"). West/East, academia/bohemia, Catholic/Protestant, Hebraic/Classical, Europe/America, Old World/New Word. I'm in love with images and ideas: my favorite writers, like Lawrence Durrell, are the ones who evoke: they can write of "Circassians" or "scented marketplaces" or "Arabian deserts" or chateaux in Avignon and have the very images carry something over to me.
|Just saying the WORDS Arab-Norman-Byzantine excite me - c.f., the Cefalu Duomo.|
The problem, of course, is that this turns quickly from evocation into Homeric epithet ("wine-dark sea"; "grey-eyed Athena"; "clever Odysseus" .... "sun-dappled Sicily", "melancholy Vienna", "wild Caucasus") and from epithet into cliche. ("Georgia, a blend of East and West, a melting pot of cultures...." I've done web travel writing to pay the rent in time gone by, and there's been a lot of [insert country here] is a fascinating mix of old and new, with charming [ruins/temples/churches/casbahs] standing alongside vibrant [cafes/galleries/performance art installations]. And I know, I know, my weakness is falling in love with novel-worthy images and ideals, and casting myself as the heroine in my Many Great adventures.
|The Professorial Personage's Demesne|
|The Bohemian Novelist probably lives here - |
when she's not sleeping under the stars or on the road.
So, with everything hanging in the balance, I've got decide what on earth I'm going to do with my life (keep this precarious Georgia-England balance? Leave it all behind and go to Rome? Decide to stay in Damascus halfway through my summer tour? If I don't get Oxford funding, who knows? It may be Damascus after all, - or else I'm bound to ghostwriting quite a few romance novels at 3 am*
The problem, of course, is that I can't be a cliche. I can't have my tomes-and-tea or my scrolls-and-sands: at least not in the unadulterated way I read about in novels. (Both of my Cliches also assume it's 1935). I've got to integrate these various sides of myself - to find a way to be both professorial and bohemian, Gothic and Mediterranean. I suppose Byzantium fills that hole for me - it's musty and ancient and irrelevant, but it's also mosaiced and gold-haloed and evocative.As does Georgia, although Georgia I'm still figuring out.
So fitting, I suppose. I come to the land of my ance stors literal (there's a village that bears my father's last name right down the coast!) and figurative (mess of Norman-Byzantine-Arab-Italian that makes up my day to day life) to try to accomplish something like integrated selfhood. A self that isn't just "the one who" goes to Jordan or "the one who" does a D.Phil in Byzantine theology, but is something more, something that is a self beyond its attributes.
(And this is where my Christian Trinitarianism comes in, and I do think Zizioulas has something interesting theological to say on the matter of selfhood.)
And yes, this is very much a First World Problem. But this week - the first week I've had without either schoolwork or (much) ghostwriting work in a very long time - ought to be a start on sorting it.
Future Sicilian travel plans (and posts-to-come): Taormina, Castelbuono, Agrigento, Palermo/Monreale.
*How I pay my rent/tuition/travel costs. Really, I swear. But I can't tell you which ones. Then they'd fire and sue me and I'd have no more money to go to Cefalu!